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Physicians Learn Leadership Skills at CPED

By: Mark Crawford

The health care industry is undergoing a major transformation. Hospitals, physicians, and administrators must navigate big changes in market forces, technology, and compliance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These changes, and the uncertainty they create, put enormous pressure on hospital leaders to improve health outcomes and control costs.

To this end, health care organizations are moving more physicians into advanced leadership positions. Because the ACA is linking reimbursement to the quality of patient care, hospitals realize that clinical expertise must be integrated into administrative decisions. To be effective, however, physician leaders need business skills—something most of them did not acquire during medical school.

Physicians Learn Leadership Skills

"Physicians and chief medical officers don't usually get the business skills they need as they rise up the ladder and take on leadership roles," says Malcolm Jeffris, senior business development director at the Wisconsin School of Business's Center for Professional and Executive Development (CPED). "More hospital-based systems want physicians to be part of the administrative team. However, if they don't understand finance, for example, it will be very challenging for them to influence the CFO."

Responding to this shift, faculty members at CPED created a comprehensive health care leadership program that can be customized to meet the strategic learning and development goals of individual organizations. Repeat clients include Dean Clinic/SSM Health Care of Wisconsin and Aspirus Health System in Wausau.

"The WSB's Center for Professional and Executive Development has been an excellent partner in customizing a leadership development program for Aspirus's physician and administrative leadership," says Marita Hattem, senior vice president of provider relations and service line development for Aspirus.

Each custom program is unique. Physicians from Dean Clinic/SSM Health Care, for example, meet every month for a year at the Fluno Center, participating in training, interactive learning sessions, and hands-on projects covering finance, accounting, executive leadership, communication, people management, crosscultural competence, operations, quality management, and change management.

Students are most often surprised to learn: The actual costs of procedures, tests, medical devices, and equipment The challenges involved with identifying all stakeholders who will be affected by a change Why people resist change, and how these factors impact change management

During these classes, faculty coach small cross-functional teams to reinforce core lessons and explore firsthand the team dynamics, teaching, and facilitation skills needed to lead people and projects.

At the end of the course, teams prepare and present a capstone project that draws on all aspects of the program. Faculty and fellow students provide constructive feedback, which is incorporated into a written development plan that extends learning beyond the classroom.

Responses to the CPED physician leadership program have been overwhelmingly positive. Evaluations by participants from Dean Clinic/SSM Health Care of Wisconsin highly rate the program's return on investment per participant, and Aspirus noticed immediate improvements in the performance of their management team.